Posts tagged history

The Reckoning by Jacob Soll

From Dante’s Inferno to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, accounting has often had a bad name. The Reckoning by Jacob Soll goes a long way towards redeeming it, showing how financial accountability has been at the heart of the rise and fall of nations from Renaissance Italy to the present day. A history of accounting may not sound like an exciting read, but Soll spares us the details of double-entry bookkeeping and instead tells a series of engaging stories of well-known historical events like the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, and the… Read More

What is History?

I used to treat books like sacred relics. I would read them carefully, never making notes in the margin or dog-earing the pages. These days, I’m more tolerant. The physical condition of a book means something else to me: well-preserved books tend to be the ones I haven’t read much, whereas battered ones show me the importance they’ve held in my life. Perhaps my most battered book of all is What is History? by E.H. Carr. This is not entirely my doing – I acquired the book from my school… Read More

Capitalism & Slavery

This book does an excellent job of showing exactly how the development of British capitalism was dependent on slavery. The author is Eric Williams, an obscure PhD student at the time of writing, but later in life to become Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago. Williams goes through his evidence in systematic detail, examining British economic and political development in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and showing the role of slavery at every turn. Great banking families like the Barclays and the Barings got their start as slave traders. Insurance… Read More

Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe

The premise of this book is delightful: a novella in 51 short chapters, describing the life of famous 17th-century Chinese painter Bada Shanren, partly through his paintings themselves, which are reproduced in the book. The writing in places was quite beautiful, but as a novella it didn’t really work for me. I’ll attempt to explain why. Part of it, I think, is the difficulty of describing art in words. I had a similar problem with the descriptions of jazz in the Booker-shortlisted Half Blood Blues last year – I wrote then, “No… Read More

What were you doing ten years ago?

It’s exactly ten years ago that I took the first serious step towards my dream of becoming a writer. I’d written before that, of course – a few short stories, a chapter or two of a novel. But I didn’t really believe that I could be a writer, and so everything was half-done, squeezed in between the other events of my life, a hobby more than a way of life. Ten years ago, I decided to get serious. I quit the high-paid, high-status corporate banking job that had always made… Read More

William Cuffay, Black Chartist

Just read an interesting pamphlet called “The Story of William Cuffay, Black Chartist.” It’s quite a story. His grandfather was an African, sold into slavery in St Kitts, where his father was born a slave. Somehow he ended up being freed and living in Chatham – the pamphlet doesn’t say how – and that’s where William Cuffay was born in 1788. He worked as a tailor all his life, only getting involved in politics when he joined the Tailors’ Strike of 1834 and was sacked from a job he’d held… Read More

How we used to be

You may remember the vague speculation in my earlier Cutty Sark post about community being traditionally much more important to human beings than competition, and therefore being something we always reach back to even though contemporary society has more or less destroyed it. Well, as luck would have it I was beginning the somewhat daunting task of reading Chris Harman’s free e-book “A People’s History of the World” (all 728 pages of it) and discovered that he covered some of the same ground. In the prologue (yes, OK, I’m a… Read More